HAMDEN, Conn. – Last April, Yale eliminated local rival Quinnipiac on the last night of the season. The Bulldogs lifted the NCAA championship trophy; the Bobcats vowed to never forget the sting they felt. Eleven months later, QU returned the favor, ending Yale’s title defense with a 5-3 victory and sweeping the Blue out of the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals.
Sam Anas added two goals to his prodigious rookie campaign total, and classmate Tommy Schutt, senior Jordan Samuels-Thomas, and sophomore Travis St. Denis lit the lamp for the Bobcats (24-8-6, 12-6-4 ECAC). Sophomore goaltender Michael Garteig saved 23 for his 24th win of the year.
“I thought we played well tonight,” said Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold. “It wasn’t perfect — I thought we struggled in the second but had a great first and third [periods] — and Yale’s a really good hockey team. We had a lot to handle to try to shut them down.
“Honestly, we were going to be great the way we played tonight. We were focused all week, we had a great week of practice. We could’ve played the Boston Bruins and been great tonight.”
Senior and assistant captain Connor Jones admitted to a bit of extra joy in eliminating Yale.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good,” he laughed. “I don’t think we’ll be satisfied until we get a national championship and an ECAC championship, but it felt good tonight, for sure.”
In the end though, he admitted, “We don’t have anything on Yale until we have a ring of our own.”
With the team’s back against the wall, it was Yale’s freshmen that carried the load. John Hayden scored twice for the Bulldogs (17-11-5, 10-8-4), and classmate Mike Doherty buried another in defeat. Rookie Alex Lyon made 29 stops on 34 shots.
“I thought we were much better tonight,” coach Keith Allain allowed, given the nature of Friday’s 6-2 loss. “Five-on-five, I liked our game. We’ll talk to [the players] tomorrow; there’s not much you can say to ‘em tonight. When the season ends, it’s always tough.”
During this season’s title defense, the Bulldogs had allowed as many as five goals in a game once. This weekend’s regional rivalry series saw the Bobcats pin that number to Lyon and the Blue twice in consecutive nights, and then some. The Bobcats’ 11 goals in two nights were the most Yale had allowed in consecutive games since quarterfinals elimination against Harvard in 2012 (12 goals allowed). Bulldogs freshmen goalies Lyon and Patrick Spano combined for an anemic 85 percent save rate in the series.
“I don’t think our team game was good enough this weekend,” Allain said at the conclusion of his post-game press conference, “and our goalie is part of our team.”
Anas scored his 20th goal of the season — tops among freshmen — three minutes in, finishing a textbook three-on-two rush with senior twins Connor and Kellen Jones. St. Denis scored his third goal of the series on a rebound 2:31 later on the Bobcats’ third shot on goal.
The Bulldogs got one back on Hayden’s power-play one-timer, but the Bobcats reinstated the two-goal cushion less than three minutes later with Schutt’s fourth of the year. The period ended with QU ahead in goals and shots (10-5), though Yale did succeed in laying several punishing hits that drew outrage from the 3,479 in attendance.
Doherty cut Quinnipiac’s lead to one early in the second period, batting what would have been a harmless shot into Garteig’s chest, were it not for the goalie’s own defenseman. While Garteig attempted to gather the puck off the crest of his jersey, QU defender Joe Fiala slid backward into the goalie, knocking both Bobcats and the puck into the cage.
Hayden struck once more in the game’s 33rd minute, sniping the top glove-side corner from 25 feet out. The goal equalized the score at three, despite a handful of excellent opportunities for QU to extend the lead following Doherty’s goal.
“I thought Hayden was one of our better players in the game last night, and I thought he was even better tonight,” praised Allain. “Our freshman class did a good job growing into college hockey, and we expect big things from them next year.”
“I thought the thing we struggled with a little bit in the second [period] which we’ve had bouts with this year was, we were a little immature with how we were dealing with things,” said Pecknold. “We lost our composure a little bit. Our message as a staff was, ‘Let’s let our character come through and reload.’”
Barely five seconds following a Gus Young annihilation of Kellen Jones and the subsequent QU power play, Samuels-Thomas ripped the Bobcats’ fourth goal past Lyon. It was the transfer senior’s first goal since Jan. 31; the heavy-hitting wing missed six games due to injury late in the regular season.
“Jordan missed six games, and we were 1-4-1,” Pecknold stated. “That shows how much he means to our team. I thought he was great both nights.”
“I’d never missed a game before, until this year,” Samuels-Thomas said. “It was awesome; to contribute feels great. Any time you score a goal, you have a lot more confidence.”
Anas’ 21st — a white-hot wrister — blew past Lyon’s blocker with 11 minutes to play in regulation, putting the Bulldogs in desperation mode. They never closed the deficit.
Quinnipiac advances to ECAC Hockey’s championship weekend and will face Colgate, against whom the Bobcats were 1-1 this season. Also traveling to Lake Placid is top-seed Union, which will play the winner of Sunday’s Game 3 between fifth-place Clarkson and fourth-seed Cornell. The Bobcats qualify for the league’s final foursome for the second year in a row and third time ever, still seeking their first Whitelaw Cup.
Yale’s season is likely over, as the Bulldogs fall beyond the top 16 teams of the NCAA field-determining PairWise rankings. Yale becomes the first defending champion since Boston University in 2010 to miss the NCAA tournament.